From the bungalow’s patio to the funky driftwood gate is a short distance, and I easily drag the kayak full of oars and snorkeling gear through the gate atop the sand berm and slide down the steep berm to beach level, where all of Tenacatita Bay opens up before me.
Oh yea, baby! Four miles of wide pristine beach arches gently to the north, ending in a rocky cluster of headlands, then another mile of white sand beach to the final headland of the bay and its coral reef known by locals as the “Aquario,” the aquarium. But that is for another day and another story, as I turn my attention to the abrupt mountain a few hundred yards in the other direction and glide into the surf.
This mountain wall forms the southern extent of the bay in a jumble of boulders and sliding cliffs, creating caves and scattered rock islets that I negotiate on my way seaward. After half a mile, the small fishing village at the beach appears even smaller, and as I turn the corner around the base of the mountain towards the open Pacific, it disappears altogether.
I am keen to explore this uninhabited stretch of mountainous coastline, and all of its natural beauty unfolds. Skimming along parallel to shore with the pelicans and soaring gulls, I marvel as the ragged shoreline becomes more pronounced in a hodge podge of caves and crevices, with underwater ledges and rocks protruding here and there in open water. It is easy to maneuver the kayak in the gentle morning swells, yet the gurgling and growling force of water in the rocks belies the sea’s strength should it be in a stormy mood and turn that subtle sound into a roar.
After a few miles I spot a small cove which appears to be an ideal snorkeling spot, and I aim for the white patch of sand in its apex. With steady waves slapping the kayak, I wade it over the last few yards of ledges mixed with gravel and onto the pocket of sand formed in the crotch of two adjoining mountains. Beyond its sand, the pocket beach has an accumulation of driftwood and flotsam caught in a tangle of tree roots, as the jungle foliage descends from the steep mountain slopes.
And there, with my first steps onto dry sand, I see it; it is staring me in the face; an unmistakable sculptural form in a modest sized tree bole, cast onto a drift log pedestal by the ocean waves. Since natural formed wood is my sculptural medium, I always survey any driftwood and tree forms that catch my eye, but this one leaps out at me. The arched mandibles of a manta curve from the bole, and a full fin extends from one side. A long, slender trunk emerges from this root base, perfect for the manta’s tail! Turning the piece over and over, I find it has plenty of raw wood to carve the other fin in a mirror image of the natural one, and I am delighted as my pocket knife reveals a dense, rich reddish wood, certainly an exotic hardwood species. Barnacle patches and sea borer holes add an ideal flavor for the oceanic sculpture that I envision.
The water logged raw wood piece is heavy and bulky with seaweed streaming from its three foot length, but I will not be denied of this unique specimen, as I strap it onto the kayak. Gazing out at the ocean topography, a feeling of completeness overwhelmed me as I contemplated the seasonal visits manta rays make to this very same shore, and I calculate how the finished sculpture will retain the aura of distant, exotic shores resplendent with sea life.
For now, the finalizing of the piece must wait for the home studio in the distant future, since snorkeling these waters was still the immediate goal. I lashed the light water craft, waded into the gravely swells, and fell into the silent world under the sea.
As I followed the colorful schools of tropical species, I found it prudent to roll with the strength of Pacific swells as they ebbed and flowed to avoid incidental impact and scrapes with the jumble of coral and jagged sea mounts. The fish floated effortlessly, suspended in the motion of frothing currents that swirled up sandy gravel, heaving it into underwater box canyons, only to suction it back out again.
After a full dose of snorkeling, I began the return trip with a round of steady paddling, and eventually aimed for a channel between a large rock outcrop that marked the beginnings of Tenacatita Bay, and the rugged mountain abutting it.
Closely discerning that my small craft lacked any edibles, a comical trio of pelicans perched on this prominent rock continued straining their necks to analyze my progress. To their probable amusement, I discovered the lowering tide left me barely above the sea grasses growing from the shallow rock seabed.
Now came the extra challenge of picking my way through the sea grass and around the newly emerging boulders, until I finally turned the corner out of the narrow channel and pushed across the deep bay towards the faintly visible home beach. The entire time I had not seen any sign of humanity, with the exception of one fishing “panga” zipping by further out at sea.
Once back in the fishing village, it seemed too easy to stumble upon more subjects pertaining to marine art. The buzz in the village was that a dead whale had beached overnight, which I later found to be a rare beaked whale, and I hurried to analyze and photograph it before the 15′ crocs living in the nearby lagoons got wind of it.
Where on Earth!? La Manzanilla, Mexico